The Roman Catholic Church has reaffirmed its complete ban on female priests to the anger of some Catholics, but to the applause of others who say women's ordination is a dead issue in their church.

In an apostolic letter released May 30 to the world's 944 million Catholics, Pope John Paul II declared the Catholic church "has no authority whatsoever" to break the church's tradition of not ordaining women. John Paul's 1,350-word Ordinatio Sacerdotalis letter said Christ chose male apostles not because of the cultural and sociological customs of his day, but to set up a "theological anthropology" that modeled what the church's priesthood should look like. Christ made this momentous decision, the pope added, only after spending an entire night in prayer (Luke 6 12).

The fact that the Virgin Mary was not made a priest, the pope added, "clearly shows that the nonadmission of women to the priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them."

Gallup polls show that 67 percent of American Catholic laity support women's ordination. U. S. Catholic bishops said they supported the pope's position, although Milwaukee's Archbishop Rembert Weakland said it caused him "inner turmoil "

"I know that in the long run, my obedience will result in a deepening of my faith," he told Catholic News Service, "but I state sincerely that it will not be done without much sacrifice and inner searching."

Greensburg, Pennsylvania, Bishop Anthony Bosco, a member of the U.S. bishops' women's concerns committee, said he agreed with the letter, but he added that women tell him the pope's arguments are contrived.

"People speak of the priesthood as a right, but that's a misperception," he said. "The church has to call you, and the mere fact of someone saying 'l believe I am called' has to be ratified by the church."

The letter was also seen as a response to the Church of England's ordination of its first female priests in March.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey's office issued a press release calling the pope's reasoning "nonconvincing." "It is the full humanity of Christ, rather than his maleness, which the priesthood is called to represent," Carey said.

Jennifer Habte, a spokeswoman for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing 920 major superiors of Catholic women's religious orders in the United States, said the letter was an effort to shut down dialogue on women's ordination.

"We're concerned it will result in further alienation of women from the church," she said. Others say that Catholic women have plenty of other options. Susan Muto, the principal writer of the U.S. bishops' 1992 proposed pastoral letter on women and director of the Epiphany Center in Pittsburgh, said women can serve in diocesan chancellorships, marriage tribunals, as pastoral associates, Eucharistic ministers, lectors, and altar girls.

"I think a number of Catholic women I've spoken to feel paradoxically relieved," she said. "I mean, let's go on to other subjects. We don't have to have a Roman collar around our neck to be important."


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